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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Invasive Mussel Invades California Fresh Water System...Costs Are Coming.

Quagga mussel invades SoCal fresh water system in 2007

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Quagga Mussels in California The impact of invasive species is quiet until it reaches epidemic proportions. Whether it's killer bees, plume grass, diseases that infest orchards...or aquatic fish or snails -- invasive species are the side effect of exporting, travel, and inattention to responsible management of natural resources.

2008 heralds another invader for California's precious natural resources -- this time, our fresh water supply.

The infamous fresh-water quagga mussel, which has wreaked havoc in the Great Lakes, has surged across Southern California. Its rapid-fire invasion this year from Lake Mead to San Diego is alarming water officials now that the infestation has spread into the 242-mile-long Colorado River Aqueduct, five San Diego County reservoirs and two of the three largest reservoirs in Riverside County.

An invasive mussel first detected in California less than a year ago has surged across the state's southern counties, stirring concern that its spread will inflict costly damage to public water systems and fisheries statewide.

Map of Quagga Invasive Territory Spread, Fall, 2007

Quagga Mussels in California


The mussel's microscopic larvae can swiftly and invisibly move through waterways and the pest is typically found only after it has implanted itself. There is no known method to eradicate the thumbnail sized mussel, but at least one agency is attempting chlorination in the hopes of killing larvae.

Edwin D. Grosholz, an expert on invasive mussels and Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis says there's nothing to limit the invasive species' spread north to Northern California.

Water operators are bracing for increased operation and maintenance costs that arise from clogging up an intake grate, pumps, valves, that require the expense of cleaning up the infestation.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has not found quagga in its system but has begun inspections at its reservoir at Lake Crowley in Mono County, where boating is allowed.

The quagga and its close relative, the zebra mussel, are native to areas around the Caspian and Black seas of Eastern Europe and Asia. The zebra mussel was first found in the United States in 1988 in the Great Lakes, followed by the quagga a year later, probably borne in the ballast water of transatlantic ships.

The quagga had never been identified west of the Continental Divide before its surprise Jan. 6 appearance in Lake Mead, and experts say it likely stowed away west on a boat and trailer to the Colorado River.

How Businesses and Sportsmen Can Help

Boaters Are Asked to Help Stop Spread of Quagga Mussel

Boating recreation is at risk (Aug. 31, 2007)

Multiple state departments are collectively urging boaters and watercraft users to help stop the spread of Quagga mussels along the Colorado River and into California. Particular waters of interest include Riverside County’s Lake Skinner and San Diego County’s Lower Otay Reservoir, Lake Dixon, and San Vicente Reservoir, all of which permit recreational access. Once the Quagga are established in a waterway, they have significant environmental, recreational and economic impacts.

Quagga mussels affect boaters negatively because they:

  • Ruin your engine by blocking the cooling system - causing overheating.
  • Increase drag on the bottom of your boat, reducing speed and wasting fuel.
  • Jam steering equipment on boats.
  • Require scraping and repainting of boat bottoms.
  • Colonize all underwater substrates such as boat ramps, docks, lines and other underwater surfaces requiring constant cleaning.

Quagga mussel infestation can potentially lead to the closure of boating in affected waterways. They also wreak havoc with the environment, disrupting the natural food chain and releasing toxins that affect other species. Spread of the Quagga could result in millions of dollars in damage to water transport facilities.

Various watercraft are the primary transporters of Quagga mussels. All boaters and anyone who accesses freshwater aquatic environments should take the following steps to inhibit the spread of the Quagga mussel:

  • Inspect all exposed surfaces - small mussels feel like sandpaper to the touch.
  • Wash the hull of each watercraft thoroughly, preferably with high pressure/hot water.
  • Remove all plants and animal material.
  • Drain all water and dry all areas.
  • Drain and dry the lower outboard unit.
  • Clean and dry all live-wells.
  • Empty and dry any buckets.
  • Dispose of all bait in the trash.
  • Wait five days and keep watercraft dry between launches into different fresh waters.

Other Water-Based Prevention

Diver Decontamination Protocols (PDF)

Watch Card for Boaters (PDF)

Department of Fish & Game Quagga Mussel website updates

SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times

RESOURCES:Invasive Species Info

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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